No longer will a child experiencing homelessness have to wait outside for hours after school before being ushered into a warm, dry space to finish his homework. No longer will families with young children be shuffled into the cold and rain at first light because an overnight shelter closes during the day.
Families experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County now have “a safe place to simply be a family,” Human Solutions executive director Andy Miller said Monday in announcing the opening of the Human Solutions Family Center, a shelter that will house up to 150 adults and children and operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Human Solutions provides shelter, case management and housing assistance to homeless families.
The shelter opened Feb. 1 amid the ongoing affordable housing crisis in Multnomah County and a spike in the number of families seeking temporary shelter.
“The housing crisis that we’ve been reading about is all too real,” Miller said. “We’re seeing families show up every night that have been survivors of mass evictions, random and rapid rent spikes and other forces of displacement that are literally punching this community right in the face.”
With a growing lack of available affordable housing, it can take three to six months for families to find a safe and stable place to live after becoming homeless, Miller said.
The number of adults and children seeking temporary shelter this winter has climbed more than 30 percent from last year to an average of 119 individuals each night. Many of those families are experiencing homelessness for the first time, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said.
The newly opened shelter is built to accommodate 150 adults and children. But all families that show up at the facility will be given shelter, Miller said.
Unlike the facility that preceded it, the new shelter features a shower space and a full kitchen. There also is an area set up with lounge furniture and semi-private area for mothers with infants. This year, three women have given birth while staying at the shelter. Another four are in the final stages of their pregnancies. Because the shelter is open all day long, instead of from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day, parents with small children do not have to leave during the day. Families staying at the shelter also have access to a number of services, including assistance with securing permanent housing and employment.
Just ten weeks ago, the shelter was far from the bright and inviting space it is now. The building had been home to the Black Cauldron, a strip club. When Miller first visited the space in July after the strip club shut down, he found a run-down building with blacked-out windows, grimy walls and prurient decor.
“What you see today looks nothing like what we saw that morning,’’ Miller said. “It was dark. It was dirty. It had no showers or facilities for kids. We looked around and saw probably the most un-kid-friendly space I could imagine and very quickly concluded this will make a great family shelter.”
Human Solutions didn’t have the funds to make the project happen, Miller said. So, it tabled the idea before Multnomah County stepped in with an offer to help.
As part of the community-wide effort to ensure that no family must sleep on the street, the county made nearly $700,000 available for the building’s acquisition and renovation.
Multnomah County, through the Department of County Human Services, provided a $300,000 loan to Human Solutions to purchase the building. Human Solutions also received nearly $400,000 from the county to pay for the building’s renovation.
Partners in the “A Home for Everyone” initiative, including the county, City of Portland, City of Gresham, Home Forward and local nonprofits, also contributed to making the 24/7, year-round family shelter a reality.
Chair Kafoury said she included funding for a year-round shelter in her budget, “because I hated the idea of shutting down a family shelter once the winter was over.
“I will never forget the sight of seeing children lined up outside the doors at 7 p.m. on a cold, wet night waiting to get into a warm place to do their homework and sleep in a bed for the night,”
The shelter will bring stability to the lives of homeless children.
Still, Kafoury and others acknowledged that the shelter is just one of many strategies needed to tackle homelessness in Multnomah County. Last month, 3,801 people, including 369 children, in Multnomah County met HUD’s definition of “experiencing homelessness.”
“While the family center is a huge improvement over what we have, it is not enough,” Kafoury said. “We must continue to work together to ensure that there is a home for everyone.”